Dear Halls Cough Drops: I Don't Want Your "Pep Talk"

Just let me be sick without the guilt trip.

Nov 16, 2011 at 2:30pm | Leave a comment

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I’ve been sick this week, with the cold I get every year right before Thanksgiving, like clockwork. I blame the temperature change, and that’s likely to be at least partly responsible, given that my blood was originally brewed in South Florida, where anything below 70 degrees counts as “cold.”

I suspect it’s also connected to anxiety over the upcoming holidays -- I host extended family over Thanksgiving, and then usually do a bunch of traveling over Christmas and/or New Year’s, and while I love doing all of it, the associated stress does take its toll eventually. What I really need to recuperate is to RELAX, and not to let being sick stress me out further such that I get sicker and sicker; some years I’ve been semi-sick for the whole month of December.

So when I noticed this morning that my cough drops were trying to give me a pep talk, I got a little annoyed. 

Apparently Halls has taken to printing little motivational phrases on the wrappers of its sweet sweet lozenges of relief. The one I read this morning told me, “Tough is your middle name,” and “Flex your ‘can-do’ muscle,” and “You can do it and you know it,” and “Nothing you can’t handle.” Also, the prominently trademarked little tagline: “A PEP TALK IN EVERY DROP.”

I don’t think I’m overstating the matter when I say WHAT THE FUCK, HALLS? 

I should explain. I am a sick-day-taking person. I’ve worked many a job with co-workers who would valiantly drag themselves to work even when utterly plague-ridden, who would cough and sneeze all over the photocopier and the fax machine and seem to feel proud of themselves for muddling through. I certainly understand when people do this because they don’t have paid sick days they can use; I have worked enough part-time retail in my life to know that in many cases, not going to work means not getting paid, which is a problem indeed.

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But in many full-time office-working jobs, this is simply not the case -- you get sick time. Sick time is there for you to use, not only for your own good, but because by dragging your germ-coated self to work you risk inflicting your disease on your co-workers, who -- speaking for myself in particular -- DO NOT WANT YOUR SICKNESS.

This inclination toward dragging illness into the workplace has always struck me as a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. This is not to suggest it only happens in the US, but that it definitely embodies something of an American culture that encourages people to “push through” physical discomfort because it makes us better individuals. We get to feel mildly intoxicated with our own self-sacrifice while demonstrating our commitment to our jobs.

We’re not going to get defeated by something so ridiculous as a physical illness! That sort of thing is for babies! Things get even more complicated when we account for folks with chronic illnesses, for whom “pushing through it” is just not a feasible option, unrealistic expectations to the contrary.

No, that’s not how I roll. I stayed home when I was sick.

Now that I work from home, I’m waging daily battle with my workaholic tendencies and perfectionism as it is; when I am not feeling well, as I am right now, I try very hard to just let myself be sick. I don’t need my freaking cough drops encouraging me to work harder, to push through it. I need to rest and drink tea and watch Man vs. Wild on Netflix. Self-care, folks. It’s good stuff. And we shouldn't feel guilty about it.

So I’d much rather see Halls go against the grain on this one. Being a person who unbashedly enjoys rah-rah go-you platitudes in most circumstances, I’ll concede that in different circumstances, the wrapper-expressions might make me smile.

But when I’m actually ill, I’d much rather my cough drops exhorted me to “Go back to bed,” or “Order some hot and sour soup from that Asian delivery place you like, it’ll help you breathe,” or “Stop checking email,” or “Everything is fine," or "Sick days are there to be used." 

I don't need to be told to work harder; I need to be told to rest.